brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(5):649-650

Clinical Question

Is one dressing superior to others when used for healing venous leg ulcers?

Evidence-Based Answer

No single dressing or type of dressing appears to be superior to others in the complete healing of ulcers or in healing rate.

Practice Pointers

Family physicians commonly encounter patients with venous leg ulcerations. A previous Cochrane review on the management of these ulcers noted that compression bandages or stockings improve ulcer healing.1 However, the best dressing to place directly on the ulcer before applying a compression dressing is unclear. The ideal dressing would keep the wound moist, allowing cells to proliferate and migrate while excess drainage is absorbed. Many types of dressings are available. This Cochrane review evaluated whether one dressing provides superior healing compared with others.

The analysis included 42 prospective randomized controlled trials with 3,001 total patients. The dressings (Table 1) included hydrocolloids, hydrogels, alginates, foam dressings, bead dressings, and dry gauze. Most trials were small, ranging from 13 to 200 participants. The length of trials ranged from four to 40 weeks, with an average of 14 weeks of follow-up. The small sample size and short duration may have limited the ability of the studies to detect clinically important differences.

AlginatesFibrous dressing, derived from seaweed, that absorbs fluid; creates gel to keep wound moist; allows gas exchange; prevents contamination (e.g., Kaltostat, Sorbsan)
Bead dressingsAbsorbs wound exudates, debris, and bacteria; a separate dressing is required to hold beads in place (e.g., Debrisan)
Foam dressingsAbsorbs exudates into foam, keeping the wound moist (e.g., Lyofoam, Allevyn, Cavicare)
HydrocolloidsOcclusive dressing that absorbs wound exudates and liquefies to keep the wound moist; impervious to gas, bacteria, and liquid (e.g., Coloplast, Duoderm)
HydrogelsFlat sheets of starch polymer that absorb wound exudates or rehydrate the wound based on wound moisture levels (e.g., Geliperm, Intrasite Gel, Vigilon)
Semipermeable film dressingsTransparent film that keeps the wound moist; allows some gas exchange; impervious to bacteria (e.g., Bioclusive, Opsite, Tegaderm)
Wound dressing padsIncludes simple nonadherent dressings, knitted viscose dressings, and medicated or nonmedicated dressings (e.g., Adaptec, Silvadene, and Betadine impregnated gauze; sterile gauze; Tricotex)

Thirty-one trials (74 percent) used the total number of healed ulcers as the primary outcome; the remaining studies used rate of healing as the primary outcome. However, healing rates may not correspond with complete healing of the ulcer.

Trials comparing hydrocolloids with low-adherent dressings included the most participants (n = 792). These trials showed that hydrocolloids were not superior to simple, low-adherent dressings. Other dressing comparisons also demonstrated no superiority.

The authors note a number of limitations in many of the studies that may limit the strength of their conclusions: small sample size and limited study duration, unspecified randomization techniques, and researchers who were unblinded to the treatment group. Only five studies were deemed to be of high methodologic quality.

There is insufficient evidence to recommend one type of dressing over another. The need for large, high-quality trials on this topic is evident because a lack of evidence does not necessarily equal a lack of effectiveness.

These are summaries of reviews from the Cochrane Library.

This series is coordinated by Corey D. Fogleman, MD, assistant medical editor.

A collection of Cochrane for Clinicians published in AFP is available at

Continue Reading

More in AFP

More in PubMed

Copyright © 2007 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.